Labor Unions 101 – Words Have Meaning

July 21, 2010

LaFeminista posted a good Daily Kos diary about unions recently, and reading the diary and comments reminded me that despite my avid pro-union stance, until about 5 years ago when I lucked into a union job, I, like the vast majority of workers who are not as lucky as I am, really had no idea what it means to actually be a union member.

But I’ve managed to gain a little knowledge in the last few years and I feel that compiling and regurgitating that knowledge in a slightly altered form might be just the thing to clear some of the fog that’s clouding the brains of my brothers and sisters on Daily Kos.

Join me over the fold for the first installment of my Labor Unions 101 series – Words Have Meaning.

Labor Union – A group of workers who engage in…

Collective Bargaining – negotiations on a contract that covers a union member’s terms of employment. If contract talks break down or if the company grievously harms one or more of us, we may decide to…

Strike – Which is really the nuclear option – it hurts everybody. When there is a less drastic dispute, typically we might form a…

Picket Line – A group of workers demonstrating solidarity by protesting the actions of management. No one crosses picket lines except for…

Scabs – NOT my bothers and sisters. But picket lines and strikes are for bigger disputes. We usually start with a…

Grievance – An assertion by the union that one or more members has been treated unfairly by management. After a grievance is filed, a union representative and a company representative will get together and attempt to hash things out. A grievance must be filed by a representative of…

The Hall – Our collectively run Union Hall and the folks who work there. It can be a rented storefront or a dilapidated shack or just an average looking commercial building. It doesn’t really matter what it looks like – it houses our business offices and it’s where we get together for meetings and the planning of the revolution. We are…

Brothers and Sisters – Every member of the working class is my brother or my sister and union members are…

Craft – Any Union brother or sister. As opposed to…

Management – A supervisory employee not covered under a collective bargaining agreement. Management is paid to fight the union. Managers cross picket lines (see: Scab) and do our work when we strike. Managers have sold their soul to the company and thrive on carrying out the orders of the corporate suborners. Managers continuously fight amongst themselves and will knife each other in the back for a promotion because they have no…

Solidarity – The core tenet of unionism. Solidarity means I support my brothers and sisters above all. That doesn’t mean that unions prevent the firing of horrible employees just because they are union – it means that the company will be made to justify any action against a union member. The company must honor our…

Weingarten Rights – “If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated or have any effect on my personal working conditions, I respectfully request that my union representative, officer, or steward be present at this meeting. Without union representation I choose NOT to participate in this discussion.” (Yes, a lot of us have it memorized.) That’s right – a brother or sister is guaranteed representation by a…

Steward – Or Shop Steward – A brother or sister who has taken on extra responsibilities by agreeing to act as the union representative for a group of workers. Unfortunately, we have…

Right-to-work states – States which have passed anti-union laws as encouraged by…

Taft-Hartley – The 1947 federal anti-union act which specifies that the Steward must also represent…

Free Riders – Workers in right-to-work states who decline the chance to join the union and thus weaken the union by enjoying the benefits of union membership without paying…

Union Dues – Used for office expenses and the salaries of union officers as well as the costs of negotiating contracts and…

Organizing – Which is like proselytizing, only for a good cause. Because union shops make life better for all by putting upward pressure on…

Prevailing Wages – The wages and benefits in a region are affected by union contracts – non-union shops must be competitive if they are to attract good…

Workers – Anyone who works for a living. If you are not independently wealthy, if you rely on a paycheck to pay the bills and grow your savings, then you are a worker. If you are a worker and you are not pro-union, then you are a traitor to the…

Working Class – “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” So says the preamble of the constitution of the…

Wobblies – The Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, or Wobblies, are a legendary international union of workers which you can join. Formed in 1905 by socialists and anarchists, the Wobblies continue to organize oppressed American workers to this day, including Starbucks baristas and bicycle messengers, two groups who could really use a…

Break – Which I am going to take right now. If you got a problem with that, talk to my steward.

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